Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ten Best in 2009.

When I look back at 2009, my first thought is: What a bad year for the Academy to name ten Best Picture nominees! Long ago I tried to give up on contests of any sort, because I can’t stand it when the wrong person wins (Hosea over Stefan, Gwyneth Paltrow over Cate Blanchett) or when the right person wins for the wrong thing (David Finkel for his Yemen series instead of the refugee love story, Scorsese for “The Departed” instead of “Raging Bull”).

Yet I still care. Some of what I loved best at the movies this year will probably get noticed (the “Up in the Air” screenplay, Meryl Streep as Julia Child), some likely won’t (Adam Sandler in “Funny People,” “Every Little Step”), and a lot that I might have liked I never got around to seeing. Which means I probably never will, since I am the sort of DVD watcher Netflix loves and my husband hates. “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” is not just the name of a Romanian abortion movie, but the length of time it sat on my nightstand before I finally mailed it back, unwatched.

So, yeah. Awards, lists, arbitrary, wrong, blah, blah, blah. That won’t stop me, though, from providing my highly personal, no-I-haven’t-read-every-single-thing-written-this-year take on the Ten Best Pieces of Education Journalism of 2009. My favorites, by the way, have nothing to do with the EWA contest (enter by January 22!), which I have no role whatsoever in judging.

Here goes:

Honorable mention (because “Top Eleven” sounds lame) goes to Sara Neufeld’s thorough profile of schools CEO Andres Alonso for the Baltimore Sun. The paper lost a lot when Sara took one of its many eviscerating buyouts.

#10. “Taking the $ATs”: There is so much to be written about who is making money off education, and I was glad to see Chadwick Matlin of the Slate spinoff Big Money investigate the reach, massive profits and awkward role of the College Board.

#9. “Schools and the Stimulus”: Education Week is always my first stop for clear and current reporting on federal issues, now more than ever. (Though I get the feeling they are relying more on AP lately.) Props to the Politics K-12 blog by Michele McNeil and Alyson Klein.

#8. “Many Dallas-Fort Worth graduates struggle in college”: Holly Hacker at the Dallas Morning News wrote my favorite database story of the year, linking high schools to their graduates’ grades as college freshmen. My second favorite, “Case of the Missing Juniors” by Tara Malone, Darnell Little and Stephanie Banchero of the Chicago Tribune, uncovered crafty maneuvers to game the state testing system.

#7. “Brain Power”: Science writer Benedict Carey did his part to remedy the dearth of good journalism on preschool with a New York Times Magazine piece on the complicated, important teaching of cognitive and executive function to young children.

#6“Just Like Us”: Freelancer Helen Thorpe wrote a powerful, engaging book about a group of Mexican immigrant girls, two legal and two not, struggling to make it through high school and college in Colorado.

#5. Just about everything by Kevin Carey: Publishing commentary all over the place, the policy director for Education Sector illuminateschallengeswarns and throws my entire financial plan into question just after my child is born.

#4. “Men Struggling to Finish at Black Colleges”: First Justin Pope of the Associated Press did the analysis to reveal the horrible graduation rates at historically black colleges. Then, more important, he showed readers what that means on campus.

#3. New Orleans coverage by Sarah Carr: The Times Picayune benefited from great raw material—you ain’t seen restructuring till you’ve seen the Recovery School District—and one of the country’s best beat reporters. Runners-up: No city was better served in 2009 than New York, where Jennifer Medina of the Times served up engaging features and dogged coverage of the mayor’s reforms, and the upstart GothamSchools team’s relentless stream of news kept traditional journalists hopping.

#2. “Failing our Students”: Diette Courrege of the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier reconstructed one boy’s entire public school education to show how he went 13 years without ever learning to read. The laborious, little-used approach to reporting really worked in this case.

#1. “Fifty-Fifty: The Odds of Graduating”: The education team at Chicago Public Radio, primarily Linda Lutton, spent a year looking in-depth at the city’s dropout problem. Journalists often attempt big projects on dropouts, but rarely do they weave so interestingly through so many nuanced issues, such as the boredom factor many dropouts claim as a factor and the dilemma of whether to give well-deserved F’s that might act as hurdles to graduation. Linda followed up on her subjects in a heartbreaking, only-on-radio segment.


  1. I really enjoyed the book, Why cant u teach me 2 read?, by Beth Fertig, about three young adults who graduate from or spend several years in New York City's high schools and still can't read. It takes a big-picture approach to reading policy, but also includes the compelling stories of these three individuals.

    I blogged about it over at Curriculum Matters.

    Mary Ann Zehr

  2. Not to be overlooked:


  3. nice list, linda -- lots of good stuff there and only a few disagreements (kevin carey's in the doghouse right now).

    here's my attempt at something along the same lines --
    best books, articles, tv shows, and movies of 2009

    happy new year!

  4. I too liked Beth's book: http://www.ewa.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7573&news_iv_ctrl=1981

  5. great list.

    thanks for publishing it!

  6. Love Diette's piece. Also, I had "The Visitor" for four months and never watched it. I hear it's great.